I am going to get a bit Tony Benn and a bit political in this blog, so if you don’t fancy it, feel free to leave. I have been reading about the Stafford hospital scandal this week. You have probably been as shocked as anyone else by the horrific stories about desperately thirsty people drinking from vases and people lying for days on sheets stained with their own poop. Awful, just awful. My own experience of care within the NHS has, like most people’s I suspect, been very different. When I have been in hospital, I have been cared for well by lovely people and so this is an alien land to me.
I have to declare an interest here and tell you that Head of House is a Health Care Assistant working in a local hospital. He would tell you that, as in any profession, there are excellent people and also bad apples. No one is saying that ever nurse or carer is a saint but, I am certain that the huge majority of people that work in these professions are (very) hardworking, patient, souls who come home from work and sink into chairs, exhausted. (Puts hand up in air to confirm that you can indeed, as they say, get a witness) Before I continue my rant, I should confirm that the opinions that follow are my own and not HOH’s. He is the kind of nice person that old ladies stop in the street and then lecture me on what a good nurse he is. (Blah Blah. He may be a good nurse, but he is rubbish patient. We are currently dealing with a bout of man flu and not,as he suspects, the first new case of Black Death in England since the 1660s) I digress.
People are bemoaning the lack of a caring culture in the nursing profession. Nurses only want to play on computers now and not hold hands and hold sick bowls. And carers are either scoundrels or people who don’t give a monkey’s about the people they are supposed to be looking after. Well, that may or may not be true. If there is any truth in it, then surely we had it coming. We have, as a country, debased caring as a profession. We pay the absolute minimum we can get away with to carers (and if we can get their kids to do it for nothing, then that’s even better) If you do the jobs that no one else wants to do, if you clean up sick, wipe bottoms, hold an old lady’s hand while she tells you about the war, put an old man back into bed for the umpteenth time that night because he has dementia and thinks the Russians are coming up the stairs, these are, to my mind, skilled jobs that take special kinds of people to do them. Do we treat these people like they are skilled? What do you think? Do we train them properly and make sure that ratios in hospitals and care homes and on home visits are set so that people are looked after properly? Well, do you think 15 minutes is long enough for a care visit to someone in their own home? 15 minutes to get them out of bed, wash them and set them ready for the day. Some days, I can’t even unfasten my coat in 15 minutes. It’s all about cutting costs and saving money. Meeting targets so that you see enough people in a day and if carers are run ragged, well there are plenty more where they came from. And if we undervalue these people long enough, both by the demands we place on them and the wages we pay them, then should we be surprised if some of them lose their way and behave badly? It may not be an excuse but it may be an explanation.
So now we have a situation where care givers are beginning to be demonised. Not just those who have behaved badly but the whole profession. Some people come into wards looking for mistakes or with a “you are just the person who cleans up the sick” attitude. And, in my more paranoid moments, I can’t help but wonder if there is some method in this madness. Am I wrong to wonder if privatising choice bits of a demoralised, badly functioning National Health Service nice and cheaply is easier to sell to the British public than it would if all were going well? Maybe, I watch too many movies.